Among the top benefits of gastric sleeve surgery is a reduction in ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” Naturally, patients expect their appetite to decrease after the procedure. But what if your appetite disappears altogether? As I’ve said many times, everyone is different, and yes, some patients go through prolonged periods where they simply aren’t hungry. Here are some tips on managing the situation if it happens to you.
Tip #1: Schedule meals.
When you’ve gone through life feeling an out-of-control need to eat, suddenly having no appetite can be confusing, to say the least. Should you just stop eating (much) and lose as much weight as you can? Absolutely not. Your body still needs fuel in order to function, and if you’re truly never hungry, you need to schedule times during the day to take in your water and nutrients. Thankfully, the digital age provides lots of options, from setting alarms on your smart phone as a prompt to downloading an app to remind you what to eat when. If you’re at a computer all day, you can even use a program like Outlook to accomplish the same thing. Pick whichever method will work for your schedule and lifestyle. My patient, Teresa, who struggles with little to no appetite, says she makes sure to eat something every two hours. “Think of your body like your car…it needs fuel, and if you don’t stop and fill up, like your car, you will be empty!”
Tip #2: Tune into other body cues.
A growling stomach isn’t the only way your body tells you it’s hungry. Losing focus, a dropping energy level, dizziness, and mental fogginess can all be signals that your body needs food and/or water, stat. Without the kind of driving hunger that many of my patients have experienced since they can remember, it’s the perfect time to learn new ways of interacting with food. Sleever Lianna advises patients to seize the opportunity to be calculated about what your body needs, rather than what it wants. “Figure out what’s healthy, how many calories/macros it needs, and give that to your body,” she says.
Tip #3: Be aware of head hunger.
Nearly every gastric sleeve patient is familiar with the concept of “head hunger,” a drive to eat that comes not from your physical needs, but from emotional needs (sadness, happiness, loneliness, anxiety, etc.) or social cues. Just because your stomach isn’t giving you much direction doesn’t mean that head hunger won’t rear its head. Be mindful of the difference even during this period. If what you’re feeling is head hunger—and it’s not your designated time to eat healthy foods—read a book, go for a walk or bike ride, or meet a friend for coffee. Find out what works for you because…
Tip #4: It probably won’t last forever.
An appetite that goes into hibernation for weeks or months isn’t all that unusual. But it’s very rare for sleevers to have zero appetite for substantial amounts of time (think years). So assume that traditional hunger cues will eventually return and plan accordingly. Many people in the no-appetite phase say they could go all day without eating, and it only occurs to them to eat at night (social cues). Your body needs regularly-spaced, high-quality nutrition. When you don’t get it, not only do you risk operating at less than your best, but temptation can creep in. Something like: I haven’t eaten anything all day, so I can “spend” all those calories on a giant bowl of ice cream. But when your appetite returns, likely sooner rather than later, you’ll have established a pattern of eating ice cream every night. Talk about a hard habit to break! The best course of action is to establish a pattern of healthful eating, no matter how little or how big your appetite. Our sleever, Lianna, is glad she did. “My appetite came back, but I was already dialed in with nutrition by then,” she shares.
No matter where you are on the hunger spectrum, make nutrition a priority by sipping enough liquid and getting your recommended protein and produce throughout the day.
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